“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over and over again, but expecting a different result” Albert Einstein

Poverty in Prosperity cartoon

Social Bonds Solving Thirty Years of Inequality… Just Like That.

The New Zealand InitiativeThink Tank is about to release a report on ‘social bonds’ according to a recent article. The Ministry of Health and Treasury have also been exploring the viability of social bonds within a New Zealand context. The model comes from overseas, and for some people social bonds represent a panacea to the tax burden of social woes. You take a complex issue and define an outcome or two, mix it with a caring wealthy philanthropic, business group or NGO, add a dash of social return (that’s the caring bit the public sector used to do) and financial return (a profit will still need to be made), stir in an intermediary (who make it all happen), and ‘voila’ you have social issues rooted in thirty years of inequality solved ….just like that. It seems it is the innovation that is freed up by private money that enables this magic to work. Publically-funded organisations simply don’t pass mustard any more.

If you want to find out more about social bonds the Ministry of Health has put together a very good series of social bonds market videos 2013. The videos cover basic social bonds 101, examples of social bond initiatives in the UK and Australia, and a clear outline of the key players and their roles for each of these examples. Other information about a Ministry of Health trial is also available at this link.  A recently published evaluation of nine social bonds projects in the UK shows that implementing bonds comes with many complications and the benefits are hard to measure. Social bonds may very well have a place alongside other funding and delivery mechanisms but we need to be careful to understand their limitations, risks and benefits to both the people whose lives they seek to change and to the communities that traditionally received the added value of government funded social and health services.